[Tweeters] Got Auklets? And more on Adak

Penny Koyama plkoyama at verizon.net
Sat Jun 19 10:00:37 PDT 2010

Hi, Larry and Tweets,

David and I recently returned from a late May tour to Adak and St. Paul with Wilderness Birding Adventures, an Alaska-based tour group run by Bob Dittrick, a retired State Parks guy. There are actually a few commercial outfits that have tours there and there were also a handful of independent birders, as well. We were to have an extra-cost pelagic trip to get the Whiskered Auklet, but the big (70'?) fishing boat that was to take us was held up from Homer then Dutch Harbor, due to weather and mechanical problems. So we lost our pelagic tour. (That same boat did complete the rest of its mission, although 2 days late, picking up one of the other commercial tour groups on Adak and going on to Attu, where they spent several days. This was that company's "maiden" voyage, and was, I am sure, much cheaper than the relative luxury-cruise that VENT offers.)

But we did get our auklets, courtesy of Isaac Helmericks, who owns a 17' skiff and took individual groups of 3 or 4 out far enough to find them, about 25 min. The advantages were that we didn't get seasick in the skiff and we were literally 10-15' from these unbelievably cute little birds--with the motor cut, we could hear them "talking" to each other! Isaac, by the way, is the mgr. of the Alaska Air Terminal (where AK Air flights come in only on Thurs and Sun) on Adak and is the first birder to live on the island full time. He was raised on the North Slope, is working on getting his boat pilot's license, and has recently set himself as an independent tour guide. He takes a couple of weeks off in the spring and fall in order to bird, and as Larry said, is really a great guy. He owns one of the duplexes, renting out the other half. I believe his wife cooks for his clients, though I'm not sure. Some independent birders bring at least part of their own food and rent housing from either the Aleut Corporation or from "independent" owners, such as Isaac. I believe WBA rented from and individual, finding it less expensive. As we left, our units were being prepared for some arriving contractors.

With about 300 residents, and probably fewer than 10% of the former navy-family units occupied, it is a strange place in many ways. But there's a grocery store, a liquor store, a smoky (I'm told) bar, a school (about 25 kids) and a medical clinic there. Even though most of the buildings were turned over to the Aleut Corporation, this is not a particularly "Alaskan Native" town, unlike St. Paul and Gambel. The abandoned housing is literally "blowing in the wind" and there is something shocking about seeing junk yards of home appliances, left-behind cars, and heavy construction equipment--too expensive to barge the stuff off, so there it rusts. Our group decided that this would be a good site for a witness protection program!

Although we missed the other pelagic birds we might have seen from the larger boat, "good" birds we saw on Adak were Emporer Goose, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Red-faced Cormorant, Smew (female), Hoary Redpoll, Aleutian Tern, Arctic Loon, Common Eider, Rock Ptarmigan (everywhere, sounding like frogs) and Hawfinch, all with great views. Tufted & Horned Puffin and Layson Albatross were seen from afar. There were virtually no west winds the week we were there (which was also true the next week for St. Paul, and, we heard, on Gambel) which might have brought in more rarities. It was a pleasant week, though. (Unlike St. Paul, which is another subject...)

Penny Koyama, Bothell
plkoyama at verizon.net

----- Original Message -----
From: Larry Schwitters
To: Tweeters ListServ
Sent: Friday, June 18, 2010 10:54 PM
Subject: [Tweeters] Got Auklets?

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